How To Help A Spouse With Addiction: The Ultimate Guide
In this guide, I’m going to teach you everything you need to know about how to help a spouse with addiction.
We’ll go over how to help your spouse, what their treatment options are, and what you can do if they refuse treatment.
I’ll even let you in on the biggest surprise most families encounter when their partner is in early recovery, and why your own recovery can help your spouse’s.
What it’s like to have a spouse with addiction
Loving someone with an addiction is tough – there’s just no way around it.
The person you envisioned would always be your source of comfort and security is now sitting at the eye of the tornado that is your life.
The chaos you’ve been pulled into often makes you feel resentful towards your spouse.
You find yourself walking on eggshells in your own home, or the opposite – everyday breeds ground for another argument.
You know they lie to you. They might even know you know, but you both continue dancing around each other.
They aren’t present anymore, even when they’re sitting right across from you.
You’re having to constantly protect your kids from them, and you’re doing everything you can just to keep it all together.
You might even feel like a single parent, bearing the burden of taking care of everything.
Your finances are depleted, your trust has been severed, and you feel a weight on your chest every single day.
On top of all that, maybe part of you feels like you’re the problem.
Maybe you feel responsible for your spouse’s use, and you wonder why they don’t love you enough to just stop.
You sense anger towards them within you, but then feelings of guilt are never too far behind.
At your core you know you love them, but the conflicting emotions you feel day in and day out make you feel like you’re losing your mind.
And then, when you’re in this place, you feel alone.
You might feel like you have to hide your spouse’s use from family and friends, but this keeps you hidden, too. You feel like you have no one to turn to, and that no one could possibly understand what you’re going through.
Rest assured that what you’re experiencing might not be normal for everyone, but it's incredibly common for people who have a spouse with addiction. Even though it might feel like it, you are not alone.
Every day, many people deal with the emotional rollercoaster of loving someone with an addiction.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 20.4 million Americans were diagnosed with a substance use disorder in 2022, with only 10% receiving treatment.
This means that every day, millions of spouses, parents, children, and loved ones are being impacted by the devastating effects of addiction.
The good news is, hope is available for you, your family, and your partner.
But does your partner know that?
A look inside your spouse’s experience with addiction
The person you fell in love with is not the person you see in front of you today.
What could’ve transformed your spouse from the person you felt so connected to, to the stranger living in your home?
While drugs and alcohol are the short answer, there’s a lot more to it than that.
First, it’s likely that your spouse doesn’t want to be addicted.
They don’t want their entire day to revolve around getting their substance of choice, using it, and then repeating the cycle.
When your spouse first tried their substance of choice, they had no idea how much it would ravage them from the inside out. They had no idea the ripple effect it would have on anyone who came into their vortex.
They just wanted to feel better.
When you think about it… who doesn’t wanna feel better? So many people do what they can to cope with feelings of:
…and so much more. For people living with trauma, the need to cope with discomfort feels neverending, and can manifest tenfold.
So while some people overwork themselves to ignore their pain, and others find the gym to be their source of salvation, there are some people who find themselves leaning on drugs and alcohol.
And that lean can transform into a dependence very quickly.
Depending on what your spouse is using, it probably didn’t take long for their body to become dependent on their go-to substance. At that point, their body needed the substance to simply function at a baseline.
Without it? Their body would get sick.
At the same time, your spouse’s brain began changing.
Different parts of the brain became compromised, including the areas that regulate impulse control and decision making. The brain’s production of feel-good hormones slowed down, making it even more challenging for your spouse to feel good without substances.
And aside from the physical changes, your partner likely fell into an emotional pit without even realizing it. They might have already been dealing with difficult feelings, and their drug or alcohol use probably created more feelings of shame and guilt.
So if your spouse’s body and brain have essentially been hijacked, how can you possibly help them?
How To Help A Spouse With Addiction
Addiction is incredibly nuanced and complex, and it typically takes structured treatment and support for people to experience long-lasting recovery. People who are struggling may need to try different forms of treatment to see what truly works for their unique needs.
Before we jump into your spouse’s treatment options and how you can best support them, it’s important to know that the first thing you can do to help your spouse with addiction is to help yourself.
Let’s look at a few things you can do right now to help you and your spouse with addiction:
1. Be honest with yourself about how you feel
If you feel worried, anxious, angry, overwhelmed, scared, or any other assortment of tough emotions that you’ve been trying to ignore, you need to acknowledge them.
Be honest with yourself about how you really feel. Don't try to protect anyone else’s feelings by ignoring your own.
When you do push your own feelings down, they’ll build up, affect different areas of your life, and you might not even realize it. If you want to help your spouse, you need to help yourself. And in order to help yourself, you need to acknowledge where you are right now.
2. Ask for help
You don’t need to go on this journey alone, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have any family members or friends who you trust, now is the time to lean on them for support. You aren’t a burden on them, and you don’t have to endure the emotional roller coaster you’re on by yourself.
Even just expressing what’s been going on can help you feel better. In conjunction with this, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or therapist for assistance, too. Your spouse will need treatment for addiction if they haven’t sought it yet, and reaching out to a trusted professional can help you explore viable treatment options.
3. Find your community
Going to a peer support group like Al-Anon can be invaluable when you have a spouse with addiction. In a supportive community like this, you’ll feel less isolated in your struggles. You’ll learn that the way you’ve been feeling is completely normal, and that there are ways to manage those feelings.
You’ll learn from people who were once in your shoes, and are now in a place you dream of being. Finding community can help you find relief, connection, and support, in a time where you truly need it the most.
4. Learn about addiction
It’s easy to be angry and frustrated with your spouse when you have a limited understanding about the nature of addiction. Honestly, it’s easy to be angry and frustrated at your spouse even when you do know more about the nature of addiction, but it definitely helps you understand what’s going on with much more perspective!
Learning about addiction can help give you answers to many of the questions you have about your spouse’s drug or alcohol use, whether that has to do with their triggers, their cravings, why they’re lying, and so much more.
When you have a deeper understanding of addiction, it’ll help give you clarity on why your spouse is doing what they’re doing. It can even help give you some solace in knowing that their behavior isn’t a reflection of who they are as a person, but is instead a manifestation of their addiction.
5. Offer support to your spouse
If your spouse has shown interest in going to a meeting or has been considering starting rehab, let them know you support them. You can even offer to attend a meeting with them, or take them to their therapy appointments.
An important way to offer support is also by creating a sober environment at home, so they aren’t tempted or triggered by things around the house.
Let them know you’re on their side and you’re committed to standing by them every step of the way, even when things get hard. The road to recovery isn’t easy, and your support can make all the difference.
6. Don’t enable your spouse
Enabling your spouse means doing things that allow your partner’s addiction to continue. This doesn’t just mean doing things like handing them a beer or driving them to the liquor store.
Enabling can look like any action, or lack of action, that prevents your spouse from experiencing the consequences of their addiction.
Some examples of enabling include:
Lying for your spouse
Covering for your spouse if they miss work
Picking up your spouse’s slack around the house
Hiding your spouse’s addiction from your loved ones
Ignoring the issue altogether
Even though you might be enabling your loved one unintentionally, it’s important to look at what areas you might be protecting them in.
When you protect them from facing the consequences of their use, they won’t find within them the deep desire to change and seek treatment.
Treatment Options for You And Your Spouse
Your spouse needs to engage in treatment if they’re going to get better. Can they quit cold turkey without anyone’s help? Sure, but that isn’t gonna do much in the long run for two reasons:
Depending on what substance your spouse is using, stopping cold turkey is dangerous. Alcohol and benzos, for example, can have lethal consequences if use is abruptly ended.
Addiction is about more than drug and alcohol use. It’s about the underlying causes that are driving that use. It’s about the emotions that are being repressed and the memories that are being numbed out. Your spouse will need to stop using, but that’s only the first step. In order to experience long-lasting recovery, they’ll need to do the deep, inner work on themselves.
So getting help is essential, but what are your options?
What Are Your Spouse’s Options For Treatment?
There are a bunch of different treatment options that your spouse can explore, including the following:
Inpatient treatment. During inpatient treatment, your spouse will live at a rehab facility for a predetermined period of time. Some inpatient programs are 30 days, while others can last for several months. During inpatient treatment, your spouse will have a therapist and a team of professionals to support them 24/7 as they focus solely on their recovery.
Outpatient treatment. During outpatient treatment, your spouse continues to live at home and attends treatment with a therapist or counselor on a weekly basis. In some instances, such as intensive outpatient treatment, your spouse will attend treatment multiple times per week.
Group therapy. In group therapy, your spouse will be part of a small group of people who are also struggling with addiction. Group therapy is led by a trained therapist or counselor, and can run on a weekly basis or multiple times throughout the week.
Peer support groups. Peer support groups aren’t run by a trained therapist or counselor. Instead, they’re facilitated by people who have also struggled with addiction and have experienced recovery firsthand. Some examples of support groups include NA/AA and SmartRecovery.
Regardless of what type of treatment your spouse uses, it’s important that they also engage in aftercare. This means continuing to go to some form of treatment after their initial program has ended.
An example of this is going to support groups once a week after getting out of inpatient treatment, or going to therapy once a week after rehab ends.
Wondering how much all of this will cost?
Some treatment providers will accept insurance, while others aren’t covered. Most facilities are easily accessible by phone or email, so you can contact them and ask about their fees. Many peer support groups, like AA and SMART Recovery, hold meetings that are free of charge and are available for anyone to come to.
While these treatment options can help your spouse get on the road to recovery, it can make a world of difference if you get involved in treatment, too.
What Are Treatment Options for Couples?
If you don’t struggle with substance use, you may be wondering why you’d need to go to treatment.
Although you won’t be going to rehab with your spouse, it can make such a difference for both of you to engage in therapy together.
In fact, a study revealed that when therapy focuses on treating a couple, those with addiction have higher success rates of long-term abstinence rather than if treatment was only given to the person struggling with addiction.
A great form of therapy to help you and your spouse is called Behavioral Couples Therapy, or BCT. This form of therapy can help you navigate and resolve the unhelpful patterns between you that might be sustaining your spouse’s addiction.
On the other hand, if you and your spouse are struggling with addiction, many rehabs allow couples to enter treatment at the same time.
While you might be relieved if your spouse decides to go to treatment, it’s important to keep in mind that things may not necessarily get easier overnight.
In fact, they might get harder.
What To Expect When Your Spouse Starts Treatment
A lot of people have the misconception that when someone enters treatment, things go back to normal.
This typically isn’t what happens.
Early recovery is going to be a huge adjustment period for your spouse and for you.
Your spouse might be overwhelmed or completely shut down during early recovery. During this time, your spouse will no longer have the coping mechanism they’ve been leaning on for so long.
They’re going to be dealing with a lot of difficult, complicated emotions, and for the first time maybe in their lives, they’re going to have to learn how to feel those emotions.
Some people entering recovery have a hard time even knowing how they feel, and may come off as being shut down. It’s important to let your spouse know you’re there for them, and to cultivate patience for the journey they’re embarking on.
Your spouse will have to dedicate time to their recovery. Getting and staying sober requires daily, conscious effort. Because of this, your spouse might be attending a lot of meetings, therapy appointments, or even engaging in new hobbies.
If you start to feel neglected or left out, ask your partner if you can come with them to some open meetings where family is allowed to attend.
Or, you can both come together to set aside designated family time during the week.
It’s important that your spouse focuses on their recovery, and it’s also important that your needs are met. By having open lines of communication with them, you can have both.
They may not want to tell you everything, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, and it doesn’t mean anything’s gone wrong. Your spouse is going to be working through a lot in treatment, and difficult memories and experiences might come up for them. If they wanna share what they’re talking about in therapy with you, that’s great. If they aren’t ready to do that right away, that’s okay, too.
They need to work through their troubles in their own time, and in a way that feels safest for them. As long as they’re talking about things with a trusted professional, they’re in good hands.
Now you might have a better understanding of what early recovery with your spouse can look like. But what if you’re not there yet?
What if your spouse doesn’t even wanna go to treatment?
How To Help Your Spouse If They Refuse Treatment
Your spouse is in denial about their problem, they’re saying they’ll stop on their own, or they don’t think treatment will help them.
There are a couple of things you can do here.
First, you might be wondering if you can force your spouse into treatment. Depending on your circumstances and where you live, you actually might be able to.
Many states have enforced what’s known as involuntary commitment laws that allow you to send someone to rehab if they meet certain criteria. Some of those criteria include:
Proof that the person is addicted to substances
The person is at risk of harming themselves or someone else
The person is so incapacitated by their addiction that they can’t provide for their basic needs
Aside from involuntary commitment, you might also consider holding an intervention for your spouse.
During an intervention, a professional interventionist, you, and your loved ones will come together to gently confront your spouse about their use. The goal of an intervention is to get them to agree to go to treatment right after the intervention.
Each person who participates in the intervention will have the chance to read a letter to your spouse, expressing how they feel. The professional interventionist will then work with your spouse to help them agree to go to treatment.
An intervention is not an attack against your spouse. When held correctly, an intervention will help your loved one feel safe, supported, loved, and seen.
This is a great way to get someone into treatment when time is of the essence and nothing else is working.
But the work doesn’t stop there.
Recovery Is A Family Process
Your spouse isn’t the only one who has to recover – your family does, too.
Your spouse’s addiction has likely affected everyone’s daily thoughts, feelings, and actions. Everyone in your household has been affected by your spouse with addiction, and is dealing with it in a different way.
Each member of the family takes on a different dysfunctional role in an effort to cope with your spouse’s addiction.
One member of the family might embody the role of the “caretaker,” who covers for your spouse and engages in enabling behavior in an effort to make everyone happy.
Another member of the family might take on the role of the “scapegoat,” otherwise referred to as the “problem child” who acts out in an effort to divert attention from your spouse’s addiction.
Another family role is the “comedian,” or the member of the family who uses humor in an effort to lessen the stress brought on by your spouse.
All of these roles and more are how you and your family are trying to cope with your spouse’s addiction, likely without even realizing it.
The truth is, everyone’s dysfunctional role can inadvertently contribute to the addiction’s existence. This is why it’s so important for each member of the family to work on their own recovery if you want your spouse to get better.
And even if your spouse isn’t in treatment, your wellbeing still matters. Your spouse’s addiction has likely affected your mood, your self worth, how you interact with others, and how you show up in the world.
You and your family deserve healing no matter what, so be sure to seek it out.
A great way to do this is by going to family support groups, engaging in family therapy or individual therapy, or working with a family recovery coach.
Resources to help you if you have a spouse with addiction
There are plenty of resources available to support you and your family if you have a spouse with addiction.
Below are just a few resources to check out:
Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a 12-step program for the family, friends, and loved ones of those struggling with addiction. Meetings are free, and you can attend either in-person or online.
Alateen. Alateen is a branch of Al-Anon and is specifically designed to support teens from ages 13 - 18. Alateen also follows 12-step philosophy, and meetings are free to attend.
Nar-Anon. Nar-Anon is a 12-step program specifically for the loved ones of those who are struggling with a narcotic addiction. Like Alateen, Narateen is also available for teenagers. Meetings are free, and are offered both in-person and online.
Recovering Couples Anonymous. RCA is not officially affiliated with the AA/NA fellowship, but follows the 12-step principles. RCA offers free meetings for couples who are committed to experiencing recovery together. Meetings are offered in-person and online.
SMART Recovery Family & Friends. SMART Family & Friends meetings provide loved ones with the tools they need to navigate their loved one’s addiction. Family & Friends is based on the principles of SMART Recovery and CRAFT therapy. Meetings are offered in-person and online, and there is no fee to attend.
National Domestic Violence Hotline. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers a ton of resources, guidance, and help if you’re currently in an unsafe situation. If you’re nervous about calling them, they have an online chat and a text line available, too.
Text line: Text “START” to 88788
Online support groups. You can find online support groups for families and loved ones that exist outside of the world of AA. One example of an online support group for families of those struggling with addiction is The Herren Project.
Learn To Cope. Learn To Cope is a support network that offers resources, education, and support to the loved ones of those struggling with addiction. They offer meetings as well as online forums where you can connect with others who know what you’re going through.
Reach out to Life Recovery Interventions to help your spouse with addiction
If your spouse with addiction is refusing treatment and you don’t know what to do, consider holding an intervention with us here at Life Recovery Interventions. We have a 95% success rate of getting people into treatment that spans across three decades, and we can help your loved one, too.
Because your recovery is just as important as your spouse’s, we also include family recovery coaching as part of our intervention process. We’re here to support your entire family as you navigate your journey through recovery, together.
In your corner,